Tag Archives: Prunus campanulata

Farewell poor Felix. We knew thee well.

The Prunus campanulata, that is. We farewelled the person – Mark’s Dad – back in 1997. The magnolia named by Mark for him continues to thrive here and we have several specimens planted around the property, including the original plant. The prunus – we have just the one and it may not pull through.

A definite lean. In fact it has fallen over, though the root system is still in the ground.

I noticed two days ago that the tree had a major lean. On closer inspection, it became clear that only the brick wall was holding it up and I was a bit worried about whether it could bring down the wall. Mark set about removing the weight that was pulling it to one side. He will cut the tree back hard and we will look at putting a prop in place but we doubt it will survive.

Prunus ‘Felix Jury’ is the reddest campanulata that we know of

Prunus campanulata ‘Felix Jury’ was named by the nursery Duncan and Davies for Felix, because he was the originator of this selection. It is simply not done to name a plant after oneself. It is still the deepest carmine red bloom on the NZ market and is much beloved by our native tui. Being a smaller growing, upright form, it has been popular as a garden plant. Unfortunately, it is not sterile so it sets seed which makes it problematic in areas where campanulata has become a noxious weed. We do a lot of weeding out of seedling cherries here because the birds spread the seed far and wide.

We will try and keep a plant going as part of the Jury collection. Hopefully this tree will stay alive until late spring so Mark can take some cuttings off it. The optimum time for taking cuttings from deciduous plants in our conditions is December.

Native tui feeding from a campanulata cherry but it looks too pink to be ‘Felix Jury”

I do not think I have ever told the story of the naming of Camellia ‘Julie Felix’. It would have been very poor form for Felix to name it for himself but he really liked it. Enter Julie Felix, the American-born folk singer who made her name in Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was touring NZ and doing a concert in New Plymouth. Felix thought that naming the camellia Julie Felix was a subtle play on names that would suit his purposes. Besides, though he took no interest in music, he liked her songs.

“You can’t do that without her permission,” protested his wife, Mimosa. She was a great woman for the telephone was Mimosa, so she tracked down that Julie Felix was staying at the Devon Hotel in New Plymouth and tried to call her. Whoever took the call – almost certainly the Devon receptionist – wouldn’t put her through to the singer’s phone so Mimosa explained (no doubt at great length) that she was trying to contact her for permission to name a camellia after her. “I am sure that will be fine,” said the person at the other end, very kindly.

So there we are. Permission was sought for this name and consent was give – by the receptionist at the Devon Hotel. I doubt that the singer ever knew there was a camellia bearing her name although it never was named for her. In a typically convoluted fashion, Felix was naming it for himself.

Ironically, I can’t even find a photograph of it, even though we have a big plant close to the house. I must set that right this winter when it comes into bloom again. It never achieved the status of his better known camellia cultivars like ‘Water Lily’ and ‘Dreamboat’ and ‘Mimosa Jury’. But Felix clearly rated it highly.

Our worst weeds

After advocating for wildflowers on our road verges in January, it is perhaps ironic that I follow up with the worst weeds in our garden. All are ornamental garden escapes and none should be liberated to roadsides.

Cape Pond Weed

Cape Pond Weed

There are times Mark has wanted to line up and shoot the former neighbour upstream from us who deliberately planted Cape Pond Weed – also known as water hawthorn, botanically Aponogetum distachyum. Pretty it may be in bloom, but we have been waging war on it for well over a decade. Floods scoured it out upstream but it has made itself right at home in our slow moving sections. We spend countless hours raking it out each summer because it we don’t, it will only take one full season before it covers the entire water surface. Miss one piece and it grows away again at an alarming speed.

Prunus campanulata filled with tui

Prunus campanulata filled with tui

Prunus campanulata ranks amongst our two worst weeds. We are constantly pulling seedlings out, or digging if they have snuck through to a second season. Any older than that, and they require poisoning. Yes I know some folk think we should get rid of all of these but the tui! The tui! And please do not tell me to plant kowhai for the tui instead because they don’t flower at the same time and even our largest kowhai trees cannot sustain the scores of tui that frequent our early blooming Taiwanese cherries. So we continue to deal to the unwanted seedlings on an ongoing basis.

There is hope. Mark has been turning his attention to the sterile campanulatas we have here, because it is the seed that is the problem. His father bred sterile campanulata hybrids – ‘Pink Clouds’, ‘Mimosa’ and ‘Petite Pink’. The last variety is probably not commercially available now which is a pity because it is a true dwarf tree. The problem with all three varieties is that they are candy pink, not the sought after carmine red. But we have a few sterile reds with some possible options which give flower power and nectar for the tui without the curse of seed.

About the bangalow palm's seeding ways...

About the bangalow palm’s seeding ways…

The other shocker – maybe I had better whisper this, given its popularity – is the bangalow palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana). Yes it is handsome and reliable but this Aussie import is far too keen to make itself at home. It took a long time for our specimens to start flowering but boy, are they a problem now. Mark tries to cut the seed off as soon as it is visible, but this requires the extension ladder and a pole saw. There is probably not a square metre left in our garden where we have yet to find a germinating bangalow. What is particularly concerning is that in the early stages, they are very difficult to pick apart from seedling nikaus. If you are anywhere near native bush or reserve, this is one plant that you should question having in your garden. Based on our personal experience, we recommend the Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) as an alternative.

Mark adds in Cornus capitata, the weedy dogwood. It was favoured by his father who planted it all along one of the road frontages and Mark has been battling it ever since. At least it makes good fire wood.

Fuchsia boliviana performs TOO enthusiastically in our climate

Fuchsia boliviana performs TOO enthusiastically in our climate

We have reviewed pretty Fuchsia boliviana. We acquired it before it appeared on the National Plant Pest Accord but never moved it into the garden. Thank goodness. In the wilds of the “plant out” area, where some specimens can languish for years while waiting for the right spot to be found, it grew far too vigorously and the carpet of seedlings rang loud alarm bells. It is another of those plants where a sterile form would be advantageous because it flowers for months on end, is showy and has attractive foliage.

Dare I mention the wonderfully fragrant Himalayan Daphne bholua? It is not in the same league as the previous plants but it has certainly seeded down all round the place here. Not all the seedlings flower, either, which is not to their credit. It is another example of a plant which is highly prized internationally but can become a significant weed in our benign climate.

It can be a mighty fine line between a desirable self-seeder and a weed. Most of the plants mentioned produce berry-like seeds which are then distributed by the birds, particularly the kereru. Plants which only seed down close to the parent are manageable but once our feathered friends are on the loose, it becomes a different matter altogether.

First published in the March issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Floral Skypaper – the garden in August

Magnolia Felix Jury

Magnolia Felix Jury

Not for us the refinement of declaring we garden for foliage and form. Give us floral extravaganza, we say, and August obliges. In the deciduous magnolias, it is the reds that dominate. By the end of the month and well into September, the softer pinks and whites come into their own but at the start, we have an unrivalled display of the stronger colours which just gets better every year as the trees get ever larger. Floral sky-paper, I call it when looking up from below. I say it is an unrivalled display because nowhere else in the world gets the same intensity of red in these magnolia, nor have they done the breeding on them that has been done in this country over the past 40 years. First Felix Jury, now Mark Jury and also Vance Hooper have pushed the boundaries with the reds. Mark was very pleased to find recently that Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society has given an Award of Garden Merit to the magnolia he bred and named for his father, ‘Felix Jury’. While we admit to being biased, it still takes our breath away each season.

Mark's new 'Fairy Magnolia White'

Mark’s new ‘Fairy Magnolia White’

It is also michelia time – or as they have been reclassified botanically, magnolias. Do not confuse them with the evergreen grandiflora magnolias which are the summer flowering trees with big, glossy, leathery leaves. I admit we still call them michelias in conversation or we go with the “Fairy Magnolia” branding that has been placed on Mark’s new cultivars. Because michelias flower with their leaves, they are not as individually spectacular as the deciduous magnolias but they are a wonderful addition to the spring garden.

Mark has been breeding michelias for coming up to two decades now and we have many hundreds, maybe over 1000 of them, planted around our property. Out of all those, he has only named and released three so far. Fairy Magnolia White is the earliest of the season to open and has the loveliest star flower as well as being strongly fragrant. There is a purity in such white flowers, especially when contrasted with deep green foliage and wonderful velvet brown buds. One of the breeding advances has been to eliminate the tendency of some cultivars to drop their leaves and defoliate after flowering. Readers with Michelia doltsopa ‘Silver Clouds’ may recognise this trait.

???????????????????????????????Nothing excites the tui more than the Prunus campanulata. These are somewhat controversial, especially in warm northern areas, because too many of them set seed freely, threatening to become noxious weeds. Both the tui and we would be grieved to see all campanulatas banned, though we are vigilant weeders on the germinating seed. We have a number of different trees that come into flower in sequence and we can have literally scores of fiercely territorial tui bickering and fighting in these trees as they try and claim their feeding space. There are times it can appear as if the trees are dancing with the tui.

Until a whole lot more work is done on selecting and marketing sterile forms of campanulatas (in other words, they don’t set viable seed so will never become weedy), if you live in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Marlborough or the West Coast, where regional councils are understandably touchy on this topic, look for Prunus Pink Clouds or Prunus Mimosa which are sterile options.
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From the big to the small – narcissi season is in full swing here. The little pictures they create give wonderful detail in a big garden. We have such a problem with narcissi fly that we struggle with the later flowering hybrids which comprise most of what is sold through garden centres (commonly called daffodils). The dwarf forms tend to flower earlier so they are over and going dormant when the narcissi fly are on the wing later in spring. The little cyclamineus ones, with their swept back skirts, seem to have a look of perpetual surprise. We are delighted with how well they are naturalising on our grassy banks where conditions are harder than in cultivated garden areas.
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We looked enviously at Russell Fransham’s magnificent bananas in the June issue.
They are a pretty marginal crop this far south and as we live 5 km from the coast, we have to take extra care and cover them in winter. We do this with giant bamboo frames and old shade cloth. A bunch of 50 is a triumph for us so we were in awe of Russell’s 200. We won’t remove the covers from ours until later in spring, just to be on the safe side. I call these constructions here the Theatre of the Banana.

First published in the August issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

The pros and cons of the campanulata cherries

Manna from heaven for the tui

Manna from heaven for the tui

Taiwanese cherries, Fomosan cherries, Prunus campanulata – they are one and the same and around this time of the year are explosions of candy pink which bring tui to the garden. In our case, it is not one or two tui. We could count them by the score if they would just sit still long enough for us to carry out a census.

Mark was not too sure about the tui which seems to have mastered the sound of vuvuzela. But I digress.

Love the trees or hate them, the tui have no qualms at all. The nectar is manna from heaven to them. And therein lies the problem. I was contacted recently by someone who is crusading against the sale and planting of campanulata cherries and I was only relatively sympathetic because I think we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The problem is the seeding habits of some campanulatas. Many set prodigious amounts of seed which is then spread far and wide by our bird population. There is an alarmingly high rate of germination. The seedlings grow rapidly and after the second season, plants are too big to hand pull out. If you cut them off, they grow again. So bad is the problem that they have been banned in Northland and this correspondent would like to see them banned everywhere.

“There are loads of better trees for Tui such as Kowhai, Rewarewa that can be available at the same time” he claimed. I don’t want to be picky with someone who genuinely cares for the environment, but on a property packed with food for the birds, I have never seen a plant as attractive to tui as the campanulata cherries. Besides, in late winter, neither kowhai nor rewarewa are in flower yet.

I mentioned babies and bathwater because the problem is seeding. There are sterile forms of campanulata and both gardeners and tui alike may rue the day if ALL campanulatas get banned, even the named forms that never set seed. This is a problem we gardeners have brought upon ourselves. The record of garden escapes into the wild is not a proud one and too many gardeners don’t take responsibility for their weeds.

Prunus Pink Clouds - one of the sterile forms raised here by Felix Jury

Prunus Pink Clouds – one of the sterile forms raised here by Felix Jury

Mark’s father, Felix, was a fan of the campanulatas and he bred a few. “Pink Clouds” has an attractive weeping habit and an avenue of them has been a feature at Auckland Regional Botanical Gardens. I assume it is still there. “Mimosa” is more upright and flowers a little later. “Petite Pink” is probably no longer available commercially but is a dear little tree that never gets much over two metres in height but has all the appearance and shape of a proper tree. The thing that sets these three apart is that they are all sterile. They don’t set seed so are never going to become weeds. All three are in that candy floss pink colour range.

Prunus “Felix Jury” was named for him by Duncan and Davies (it is not the done thing, dear readers, to ever name a plant after yourself) but it was of his raising. It is a much deeper colour, carmine red, and a small growing tree. What it is not, alas, is sterile so if you see it being advertised as that, the nursery or garden centre is wrong.

It seems to be quite difficult to find reliable information on the seeding habits of other cultivars on the NZ market. If anybody knows more on this topic, please let me know. Every year at this time, Mark starts to talk about doing some more work with campanulatas to raise more sterile forms. We know which ones are sterile in the garden but the best one is a rather large tree for most people on small urban sections. It would not allow you to fit your house on the plot as well.

Petal carpets supreme

Petal carpets supreme

I can also tell you that one of our most common weeds here is seedling cherries and we are vigilant and persistent. If you live anywhere near native bush or a reserve, you should take great care to grow only sterile forms or to avoid them altogether if you are not sure. If you live in town with a seeding specimen, your neighbours probably grit their teeth at the seedlings that pop up in their place.

If you can manage the weed potential, the explosion of bloom in late winter is wonderful. Taiwanese cherries flower much earlier than their Japanese counterparts and are nowhere near as susceptible to root problems in wetter climates, so they live longer. Nor do they suffer from witches’ broom which can take over the Japanese types. It is when part of the tree grows much more densely and vigorously and fails entirely to flower. Left to its own devices, witches’ broom can take over the entire tree and the only way to deal with it is to cut out affected sections. It is very obliging of the campanulatas to be resistant.

The tui would be most grateful if we could just get this right for them before all campanulata are banned are noxious weeds.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector – Prunus campanulata

It took many attempts to capture the tui in the campanulata cherry

It took many attempts to capture the tui in the campanulata cherry

The cherry trees which have been in flower in recent weeks are the campanulata or Taiwanese cherries. Sometimes you will still see them referred to as Formosan cherries which may require a lesson in history for anybody under the age of about 60. True, the colours can be a little harsh in carmine pink, cerise and sugar-candy pink tones but on a bleak early spring day, who is going to quibble about the mass of flowers which appear on bare branches? The biggest bonus of the campanulatas is their attraction to tui who feed on the nectar. Our native birds are wonderfully unconcerned about whether or not their food sources are indigenous plants. We can have upwards of 30 tui bickering and squabbling for territory in a single tree, but they don’t stay still long enough to count accurately.

Campanulata cherries are not as hardy as the later flowering Japanese types but this is rarely a problem except in the coldest parts of the country. They are also more disease resistant and healthier in our climate and don’t succumb to the dreaded witches broom which can be a problem in other types. If you plant several (and being a tree of light stature, they are easy to fit in alongside other trees), you can have them flowering in succession over many weeks which keeps the tui at home. The big disadvantage is that many forms set seed freely and germinate readily. They are such a problem that they are on the banned list in Northland unless it is a known sterile form which doesn’t set seed. If you border native bush or a national park, make sure you search out forms advertised as sterile but otherwise you just have to be vigilant with your weeding.

(first published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission)